Questioned by the Wonk Room on Monday, US Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry admitted that the official estimate of the blowout flow rate — 210,000 gallons (5000 barrels) per day — is over two weeks old, and has not been updated based on any new information since. In a conference call with bloggers and other online media, Landry referred to the 210,000 gallon guess as the current flow rate, but under questioning later admitted:
I have never personally trusted that as an exact number . . . . It could be 55,000 barrels per day, which is an extraordinary amount.
What is also “incredible” is that the official range of uncertainty goes from 210,000 gallons to 2.3 million gallons a day. Officials repeatedly have claimed that they are able to properly respond to the worst-case scenario even as they promote the idea the spill is ten times smaller.
On April 27, SkyTruth president John Amos and Dr. Ian McDonald estimated the leak rate to be a minimum of 850,000 gallons (20,000 barrels) a day. The “official” 5000-barrel guess was made by NOAA Scientific Support Coordinator Charlie Henry on April 28th, as announced by Rear Adm. Mary Landry, US Coast Guard, that afternoon. The guess was repeated by Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator in a White House press briefing on the 29th. Since then BP and NOAA have not publicly revised their estimates, nor publicly disclosed their working range of uncertainty or confidence intervals.
Landry claimed efforts are underway to use satellite imagery and undersea measurement to revise the outdated estimate.
Transcript of the exchange between Landry and the Wonk Room:
Q: Hi. This is Brad Johnson, with ThinkProgress.
I just wanted to, first off, thank you for your work. I hope you’re getting some sleep.
And I want to talk about the questions of the scope of the spill and then recognize that you said that you’re committed to finding the truth about this. But I really think that there’s been a serious amount of misinformation and lack of transparency on this issue.
So my understanding is that the last time that an official government estimate was made of the flow extent was in April, by NOAA looking at satellite data. BP officials have testified that it was impossible to estimate the flow rate from the seabed, even though independent experts were able to generate pretty confident estimates based on 30 seconds of video footage.
So I’m wondering if you’re committed to getting more video released or, if BP isn’t letting the government have that video, if you believe that it’s possible to make at least some kind of estimates of the flow rate from the subsea, especially now that there’s a riser insertion tube, which clearly must have pressure readings and flow rate associated with that.
Has the decision with the — in kind of broader questions like that, you have the decision to inject subsea dispersants, and is that being made without a real knowledge of the outflow? Is the 5,000- barrel estimate that you mentioned in the call today, does that have an upper bound of what the independent experts are saying is possibly 3 million gallons — so, an order of magnitude larger?
ADM. LANDRY: Yeah. Certainly we are trying to be transparent, and there has been nothing kept from you or anyone that we haven’t analyzed.
As far as the video goes, there is a request from — as I said, you probably could get it on Senator Nelson’s Web site. There’s a request from the Senate for the video. I know we have also — working with BP, trying to get that video as well.
I would caution that the folks that have done the analysis on what was released, I think it was six seconds. I don’t think it was 30 seconds that BP released. It was six.
And in that analysis they did a six-second spot in time, which — I’m not questioning their modeling capability or their methodology, I just think it’s — I don’t know that a six-second shot in time is going to give you a full picture.
There is not —
Q I mean — I just want to say that it’s consistent with the independent estimates of the spill estimate from satellite data as well.
ADM. LANDRY: Right. Right. Let me tell you — let me continue, because this is a really complex answer.
First of all, we do not have the ability to read the outflow at the riser insertion tube. You might think you can, but you really — there was no way to do that. There was no way to — it would have taken longer to design the riser insertion tube if you wanted to attempt to do some sort of a flow rate.
What they do have from the riser insertion tube is they have a way of decanting. Once the oil and gas and water mix reaches the surface on the Enterprise, they can decant. And that’s how they were getting the estimate of the thousand-gallons — or, thousand barrels, excuse me — estimate of what they’ve retrieved thus far.
And as they get more fidelity on that, how much they get out of the riser insertion tube, they will share that with you. BP will share that with you.
What we also have going on is we have the Minerals and Management Service, the Coast Guard and other federal agencies working on a couple different things. Certainly we want to get fidelity on what we think the estimate of oil is.
When you’re in a response like this, you have to prepare and respond to a worst-case scenario. So we have been preparing and responding an upward-bound of what could potentially be approximately — we said 5,000 barrels, but it could be 55,000 per day. That if the well let go, the design engineers will tell you that it could be approximately 55,000 barrels per day.
We don’t think we have that much, because we’ve got satellite imagery; we know what we’re responding to. We know how much we’re seeing on the surface; we can estimate that. So the upward-bound of worst-case could be approximately 55,000 barrels.
But what’s more important is we are doing the analysis. We are working to do the analysis. A federal team is working to do the analysis now, based on the information that we can get from the video and from the ROV, to see if we can get more fidelity on the actual amount. And that’s something that will be very important as we go down the road for the national resource damage assessment process and for other things.
So I will tell you that if we have information, we will share that with you. But I don’t want to promise anything that — I don’t want to promise things that we can’t deliver on soon enough, and I don’t want to get ahead of the analysis that’s being done right now, because that would be inappropriate for me to speculate. But we are seeking that kind of fidelity of what is — the estimate of really — (inaudible) — been coming out of this well.
Q So just to be clear, BP is refusing to release the video to the government?
ADM. LANDRY: No, that’s not true.
Q Okay. When you said you — that we are trying to get that video, what do you mean?
ADM. LANDRY: We are requesting that video. We are —
Q And so BP has not yet given the video?
ADM. LANDRY: They may have. They may have very recently given the video. I don’t know for a fact that they’ve released it yet, but they may have given it to us. We have requested it from them, and we are seeking to do an analysis.
Q And has an estimate of the slick extent, or the spill, been done based on satellite imagery since the 5,000-barrel-a-day estimate was generated at the end of April?
ADM. LANDRY: There is work also going on on what they call the fate of the oil. Because the original estimate is an estimate; it’s always an estimate. And then you’re responding to — you’re dealing with the response as it appears on the surface, as you — what you see coming up on the shoreline and that.
And we haven’t had significant impact, but we’ve been working hard at this, between controlled burn, dispersant use, skimming, which — we’ve been working hard at what we call the fate of the oil, to analyze the efficacy of all these tools, if you will, in the toolkit. And as we get that analysis –
This is not an exact science. These are all estimates, because the oil and water mix, even as you deal with dispersants, you’re trying to figure out what’s the analysis of how much we have applied on the surface and subsurface, and what’s the estimate of the efficacy of that. There’s a thing called the fate of the oil.
And they are doing an analysis to figure out how much do we think we’ve really been dealing with since the start of this response? So both of those things — the estimate of the out-flow, based on the video analysis, and then also the efficacy of the response.
And based on what we know we’ve collected thus far and what we know we may have dispersed thus far, those — both those analysis — data analysis work is going on in both those areas as we speak.
Q But the official estimate is over two weeks old right now, right? Is that correct?
ADM. LANDRY: Yes.